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Originally published April 24, 2014 at 9:36 PM | Page modified April 24, 2014 at 9:55 PM

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Loss of No Child Left Behind waiver means schools will be labeled ‘failing’

Washington’s loss of a waiver to the No Child Left Behind law means many schools will be labeled as failing and districts will lose control of how they spend a portion of federal funding aimed at helping disadvantaged children with math and reading.

Seattle Times education reporter

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This fall, state education chief Randy Dorn will again ask the Legislature for dramatically increased funding to comply with the Supreme Court’s school-funding decision.

At the same time, most of the state’s parents will be receiving letters explaining that their children attend schools in failing districts.

That’s one of the consequences of a decision by the federal government Thursday to revoke the state’s waiver from the No Child Left Behind law.

“In September, I’m going to send a message out to the public that all your schools are failing,” Dorn said in an interview Thursday. “I don’t think that’s a really good plan to get full funding of education.”

Washington became the first state in the country to lose its No Child waiver.

The reason: It has not mandated the use of student scores on statewide tests as part of a teacher’s evaluation, a condition for keeping it.

As a result, districts will lose control over how they spend part of their share of about $40 million in federal funding to the state, aimed at improving the math and reading abilities of disadvantaged children.

Under the waiver, state school districts have been able to tap those funds to provide preschool, full-day kindergarten, teacher training and extra help from certified teachers after school and during the summer.

Now, though, districts with struggling schools will have to set aside 20 percent of their share to pay for individual tutoring from private vendors outside the district or to cover busing costs for children who want to transfer from a failing school to a nonfailing school.

For schools in Seattle, that amounts to about $1.6 million that will have to be set aside for next year.

The news didn’t shock most officials, who have long warned that Washington would lose the waiver unless it changed the law on teacher evaluations.

Much of the reaction reignited the debate heard in the last legislative session over whether to make test scores — now an optional part of teacher evaluation in Washington — mandatory.

Dorn and state Sen. Steve Litzow, chairman of the Senate Education Committee, blamed the state teachers union, the Washington Education Association (WEA), for opposing legislation that would have secured the state’s waiver.

“It was easily fixable, easily avoidable, but the teachers union decided that they didn’t want to be held to that extra level of accountability and the Democrats followed them right over the cliff,” said Litzow, R-Mercer Island.

The union said the Legislature did the right thing by leaving the state law alone.

“I can only conclude rescinding the waiver is a failure of federal policy, not of our public schools, students or teachers,” said WEA President Kim Mead.

State Sen. Rosemary McAuliffe, the ranking Democrat on the education committee, said casting blame misses the point that the No Child law itself is unrealistic.

“No Child Left Behind has been a failed federal policy since it was created in 2001,” said McAulliffe, D-Bothell. “We knew then that the goals it set were unattainable.”

Washington state promised two years ago to enact education policies favored by the Obama administration in exchange for relief from some requirements of the federal law, which U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan told Congress in 2011 was broken.

“We should get out of the business of labeling schools as failures and create a new law that is fair and flexible, and focused on the schools and students most at risk,” Duncan testified that year.

Democrats and Republicans oppose the law for different reasons and have stalled on renewing it.

Meanwhile, Washington and 42 other states received waivers, allowing the Obama administration to push its agenda instead of waiting on Congress.

No Child Left Behind requires all children to pass state math and reading tests this year.

But even the Accelerated Progress Program at Lincoln school in Seattle — for students who score highly on cognitive and achievement tests — would be considered failing under the No Child law because it hasn’t reached 100 percent proficiency for all students, according to the district.

No Washington school district with enough students to report test scores reached that mark last year. Results from the spring tests this year will be released in late summer.

Officials expect that parents throughout the state will receive letters this fall telling them their districts are failing, another previously waived provision of the No Child law.

The state still needs to work out the details of how schools will be held accountable with the U.S. Department of Education.

Before the waivers, schools were measured on something called Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) toward the goal of every child passing math and reading tests by this school year.

But under the waiver, Washington state switched to a new measure, called Annual Measurable Objectives (AMO).

Using 2011 as a baseline, the state figured out how far away students, in general and by demographic subgroups, were from meeting the 100 percent proficiency goal in reading and math.

Schools must be on track to cut those gaps in half by 2017 to meet AMO targets.

The U.S. Department of Education explained Thursday that Washington could continue to use the new AMO measure, but the result still must be 100 proficiency this school year.

“We are still in discussions exactly how that will come down since we’re the first that’s had their waiver revoked,” Dorn said. “There are some elements of our new accountability system that I believe that we should be able to hang on to and the feds are trying to work with us on that.”

John Higgins: 206-464-3145 or On Twitter @jhigginsST

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